Locke, Wesley, and the Method of English Romanticism

Locke, Wesley, and the Method of English Romanticism

Locke, Wesley, and the Method of English Romanticism

Locke, Wesley, and the Method of English Romanticism

Excerpt

Probably when our unified field theory of British Romanticism finally arrives, the materials will be somewhat nearer at hand than either the distant past of Milton or the far future of Joyce. . . . Thinking about British Romanticism primarily in connection with the eighteenth century may not taste quite so sublime to our intellectual palates; but perhaps our taste has become a bit depraved.

No matter how direct the attempt at revival, the near influence is always telling. For example, Hollywood's conception of Imperial Rome fluctuates according to "modern" rather than Roman styles of costuming: compare Claudette Colbert's Cleopatra in 1932 with Elizabeth Taylor's in 1963. The buildings of Balliol College, Oxford, attempt a direct reproduction of the medieval, but are finally Victorian: their designers saw the Romanesque through neo-Georgian and "gothick" eyes. Wordsworth begins his Prelude in the new world atmosphere of the end of Paradise Lost, but he could not escape what lay between him and Milton: the near influence on the Romantic revival of far-off things is the eighteenth century. I argue here that an important aspect of that century, and hence of the near influence on Romanticism, is John Wesley's dialectic of philosophy and faith.

The founder of Methodism, of course, did not think of himself primarily as a philosopher, but, according to my point of view, Wesley (1703-91) was decidedly philosophical, or at any rate philosophically theological: his theology, if not his faith, relates clearly to the empirical philosophy in An Essay concerning Human Understandinq (1690) by John Locke (1632-1704). By exploring the intellectual atmosphere of Wesley's formative years and by drawing out the intellectual content of his prose, I

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